The history of Greenland, the world's largest island, is the history of life under extreme Arctic conditions: an ice cap covers about 95 percent of the island, largely restricting human activity to the coasts.
The first humans are thought to have arrived around 2500 BC. This group apparently died out and were succeeded by several other groups migrating from continental North America. To Europeans, Greenland was unknown until the 10th century, when Icelandic Vikings settled on the southwestern coast. This part of Greenland was apparently unpopulated at the time when the Vikings arrived; the direct ancestors of the modern Inuit Greenlanders are not thought to have arrived until around 1200 AD from the northwest. The Norse settlements along the southwestern coast eventually disappeared after about 500 years. The Inuit thrived in the icy world of the Little Ice Age and were the only inhabitants of the island for several centuries. Denmark-Norway nonetheless claimed the territory, and, after centuries of no contact between the Norse Greenlanders and their Scandinavian brethren, it was feared that the Greenlanders had lapsed back into paganism; so a missionary expedition was sent out to reinstate Christianity in 1721. However, since none of the lost Norse Greenlanders were found, Denmark-Norway instead proceeded to baptize the local Inuit Greenlanders and develop trading colonies along the coast as part of its aspirations as a colonial power. Colonial privileges were retained, such as trade monopoly.